Marquee on the Tower Theater in 2019. (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

Fifty-one years ago, a dying movie theater was reborn as a music venue.

And maybe the most notable thing about opening night wasn’t the headliner, but the women singing backup.

For the past half century, Upper Darby’s Tower Theater has been one of the region’s premier concert halls.

Though it seats less than 3,500, the Tower has hosted a comically long list of legends.

The Tower Theater at 69th and Ludlow streets in Upper Darby, shown here in 2007. (Wikimedia Commons/Mtruch)

The list of past performers includes, but is hardly limited to:

The Rollings Stones, U2, Radiohead, Bob Marley, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, The Smiths, Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Oasis, Steely Dan, Eddie Murphy…it goes on and on.

David Bowie and Paul Simon are among those who recorded live shows at the theater, which has a reputation for great acoustics.

But before it became a bucket-list stop for musicians and fans, the Tower was an old movie theater on life support.

The Tower opened in 1928 under the ownership of John H. McClatchy.

McClatchy spearheaded Upper Darby’s transformation from farmland to commercial hub. When McClatchy died in 1960, the NYT credited him with developing $1 billion in real estate.

Tower Theater, 1931. (City of Philadelphia, Dept. of Records)

The theater screened films alongside vaudeville acts and other stage shows. It had its own organ and a “lavish” set of marble stairs (per the Daily News).

But many movie palaces faltered in the postwar years, and the Tower was no exception.

By the late 1960s and early 70s, the theater’s owners were in court asking Delaware County to reduce its valuation of the property. Not exactly a sign of boom times!

Salvation came in the form of a rock promoter named Rick Green.

Green and his company, Midnight Sun Concerts, refurbished the Tower Theater and rebranded it as a concert hall.

The first show took place on June 14, 1972.

Buzzy Linhart opened for Dave Mason.

Mason had an international reputation as a singer-songwriter. He was a founding member of the band “Traffic” and penned major hits like “Feelin’ Alright.”

On this opening night, he was backed by a trio of singers from Oakland.

The Daily News called them “The Painter Sisters.”

That was a typo. “The Painter Sisters” were actually “The Pointer Sisters.”

June, Bonnie, and Anita Pointer hadn’t cut an album yet.

But stardom awaited.

With hits like “I’m So Excited” and “Slow Hand” the Pointer Sisters became regular chart-toppers, especially in the early 1980s.

Of course, they didn’t yet have that national reputation in 1972 — much like the music venue they christened.

Originally tweeted by Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) on June 15, 2023.

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...